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The New Hampshire Union Leader and MSNBC will hold an unsanctioned Democratic debate in the Granite State in early February that could threaten to put candidates who participate at odds with the Democratic National Committee.
The announcement comes as the DNC faces criticism for a meager debate schedule. The party has warned that any candidate who participates in an unsanctioned debate would be barred from future debates.
Paticipation by the party's top candidtes could threaten the DNC's hold on debates.
Martin O'Malley, who us running a distant third, is the only candiate so far to say he would be in the debate.
Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign's communications director, indicated Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again OMB director: Government shutdown not a 'desired end' Poll: Almost half say Trump off to poor start MORE is open to participating.
“Hillary Clinton would be happy to participate in a debate in New Hampshire if the other candidates agree, which would allow the DNC to sanction the debate," she said in a statement shared with The Hill.
The campaign did not immediately respond to a request to clarify whether Clinton would still participate if the DNC chose not to sanction the event.
If top candidates do participate, that would increase the pressure on the DNC to back off its threat of sanctions.
The DNC has not said whether that prohibition will apply in this case.
The debate, to be moderated by "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, will be held on Feb. 4, five days before the New Hampshire primary. It stands to be the only debate between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries--currently, the Jan. 19 debate was the last on the calendar until two days after the primary.
Trent Spiner, the Union Leader's executive editor, told The Hill that he's been in contact with the DNC, but wouldn't speak for them as to whether that prohibition will apply.
"People are saying to me, 'We need another debate.' We feel like it's our job as a statewide newspaper to give the information that people need," he said.
"This isn't a fight about the schedule or anything like that. It's about giving the candidates a very good option--we have a lot of respect for Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow-- to travel to New Hampshire and be heard by millions of voters."
Spiner added that all three Democratic candidates have been invited. Representatives with Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi: 'Of course' Dems can be against abortion Kasich: 'I think political parties are on their way out' Sanders: Democratic Party's model is 'failing' MORE have not announced whether their candidate will be participating.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has faced criticism for a limited number of debates — several of which have been on weekends. Critics have said the schedule limits the amount of time voters see the candidates and gives Hillary Clinton an advantage.
So far, the six GOP debates have pulled in 102 million viewers, while the four Democratic debates have reached 43 million viewers, according to an analysis by the New Democrat Network.
Wasserman Schultz, however, has continued to defend the debate schedule, saying it was designed to "maximize the opportunity for voters to see our candidates" both on the debate stage and on the trail.
- Updated at 6:45 p.m.